Your Adult Children: Accepting Their Choices
The other day I talked to a couple that were concerned about the relationship choice of their oldest son. Bill was engaged to a woman 5 years older than him who had a child from a previous marriage. Frankly, his parents were unhappy about his choice. They had a different picture of their son’s future.
Sarah and Joe were distressed over their daughter’s vocational choice. She was always a good student and went to the University of Washington. Now she wants to go to massage school and become a massage therapist. Sarah had different ideas. She thought her daughter would be a great lawyer!
When my wife was in college, she wanted to be a modern dancer. Having studied ballet since she was 8 years old and modern dance in New York, she wanted to study with the great choreographers of the time. She was always a straight A student. Her father thought she should become a pediatrician so she would marry a doctor! (She did become a psychologist and married another psychologist—me!)
This list goes on. John and Mary want their son to go to college after graduating high school, but he wants to join the Navy. Another couple is hoping their daughter will finish college, but she wants to take time off and travel.
These vocational and relationship choices are one category of differences. But what about if you worry that your adult son or daughter has bad judgment, makes poor decisions, or is impulsive? What if you think they smoke too much pot? What if you think your son lacks motivation?
These concerns can be very distressing for middle-aged parents who are baby boomers. As the children of adults who lived through the great depression, we were very ambitious, hard working, and independent. Our parents worked very hard to secure our future, and we adopted a strong work ethic. Our children may be very different than us. The generation gap that our parents knew so well with us only starts to become apparent as children become adults themselves.
For the first 16 years of their lives, we are involved with every decision that impacts their lives. But as they become older adolescents, young adults, and adults, this role starts to fade like the setting sun. We still have a deep bond, but we have (hopefully) diminishing responsibility and control.
So what can we do if we are unhappy about our children’s choices?
Just like we did, everyone has to find their own way in their life. Our children are not in this world to live up to our expectations. They are not responsible for living our dreams. They must create their own aspirations. What we can do is to help them have confidence in themselves and to express our trust that they will find the way that is right for them, even if it wouldn’t be right for us.
As we watch them make choices that may be hard for us to fathom, we need to accept that this is their life, not ours, even if we experience disappointment.
Don’t give unsolicited advice. No one likes advice that is given without an invitation. It is rarely appreciated. If you want to give some advice to your adult children, ask them first if they would like some advice on the topic at hand. If they say yes, the door is open. But if the answer is no—let it go.
Let go. This is a process that started when your baby was first born, and emerged from your womb. It continues every day, and it can be very hard. But it is an important part of your job as a Mom or Dad. Eventually, we will pass away, and we want our adult children to be able to thrive on their own without us.
But what about when they are making seriously bad choices, like drug abuse or appear to be dysfunctional? These adults also have to learn from their own mistakes, just as we did. And, they probably won’t be interested in our input. But we don’t have to provide support to our adult kids when they fall flat on their face because of poor decisions. Let them pick themselves up.
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